The state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday over whether a ballot initiative should be part of November’s election.

Missouri Supreme Court

Missouri Supreme Court

Opponents of the proposal, which would raise cigarette taxes, claim signatures required to place the measure before voters should be disqualified because its language was changed after those signatures were gathered.

Attorney Jane Dueker represents the initiative’s backers, Raise Your Hand for Kids.  She claims the opponents are trying to invalidate the effort far too late in the process.

“You have all the signatures, everything done that was required of you at the time, and you’re trying to retroactively invalidate” said Dueker.  “So, what they’re seeking to do is to have the opponent’s rights actually trump the constitutional rights of the citizen proponents.”  Dueker calls the suit the “easiest case for the court, hardest for the opponents”.

Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents the opponents, says the law is clear in what’s permissible to place before voters in a ballot initiative.  “The legislature has put together a process to make sure people aren’t misled into putting things on the ballot.”

He argues the altered language placed in the ballot initiative after people signed the petition renders the document unconstitutional. “If someone proposed an initiative petition to throw every one of the Muslim faith out of the state of Missouri, that’s a clearly unconstitutional proposal.  Are we going to allow that to be put on an initiative petition, and to be voted on by the people?”

Dueker says the claim of language being changed between the time voters signed the petition and the later date when the ballot title was certified by the secretary of state is moot.  “The (state) constitution does not require that there be an official ballot title on the petition that’s circulated to signers.  It only requires that there be an official ballot title when it goes to the electorate.”

An appeals court has ruled against the proposal submitted to petition signers.  Money from the cigarette tax would go toward early childhood programs.

It’s not certain how ballots, which are  being printed and sent out for early voting in the next week, will be affected by the Supreme Court decision.

The way the initiative is drawn up, major brand cigarette cigarettes would have a 60 cents tax increase while smaller brands would see hike of $1.27, which would escalate every year.

Among the group’s opposing the measure is the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

Tobacco giant Reynold’s American has gave several million dollars to the group backing the proposal, Raise Your Hand for Kids.